Ongwen family and LRA victims differ on verdict

Friday February 05 2021
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Mr Gibson Okullu, a resident of Lukodi village in Bungatira Sub County. Photo | Cissy Makumbi

By Cissy Makumbi
By Suzan Nanjala

Yesterday’s conviction of Dominic Ongwen by the International Criminal Court (ICC) judges has drawn mixed reactions from his family, leaders and victims in Acholi Sub-region, the epicentre of the near two-decade Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency.

Whereas some of the victims asked ICC to sentence Ongwen to death, his family and retired Kitgum Bishop Macleord Baker Ochola II said the decision was unfair since Ongwen was abducted while a child.
Bishop Ochola and his peers at Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative have been pushing for a non-punitive but restorative justice system that seeks to  rehabilitate offenders.

 “There is nothing like fairness in this [judgment], he (Ongwen) was just being used by the LRA top commanders at the time. He would not have been punished twice [because] he was forced to kill,”  the retired bishop said.

The Hague-based court yesterday found Ongwen guilty of 61 out of 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his command role during raids on IDP camps in Lukodi between 2002 and 2005.
Shortly after the verdict, majority victims said they felt justice had at last been done.

Mr Muhammad Olanya, 36, a resident of Lukodi Village, said he lost his mother, two brothers and two children during the LRA war and the ICC judges in his view should sentence Ongwen to life imprisonment.

“I was not able to go to school, I had lost my father earlier and my mother was the bread winner at the time of her death and that was the end of my education,’’ he said.

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Ms Betty Ayat,51, said the trial of Ongwen has resurrected for her painful memories of the loss of her two-year-old daughter, mother-in-law and two sisters on the day of the raids in Lukodi.

“My heart is bleeding, my prayers are that Ongwen’s accomplice who are still at large should also be captured, tried and [made to] pay for what they did to the innocent population in the north and neighbouring countries,’’ she said.
 
But Ms Dillis Abang, who identified herself as Ongwen’s wife, said she expected a “fairer” decision, considering that the father of her children was taken into captivity at a tender age and after the government failed to protect him against marauding rebels.

“I feel the pain of taking care of the children single-handedly since the court has ruled that my husband [is guilty],’’ she said.

Mr Ambrose Olaa, the prime minister of the Acholi cultural institution, said:  “ICC has done what was expected, looking at the atrocities that befell us in the north, but we also feel that the traditional justice system can also do the same  since we have seen it work in  some countries.’’

Many of the former LRA fighters who surrendered and admitted their crimes were forgiven through a traditional cleansing process called Mato Oput.
Other victims of the war such as 80-yearl-old Josline Alanyo, who lost seven relatives in the attack on Lukodi, said ICC should be the end for Ongwen.

“In any case, [if] he returns, he will be cut into pieces from the smallest finger until he is no more,’’ she said.

Mr Gibson Okullu, 64, who lost his 20-year-old son during the raid for which Ongwen was convicted, praised ICC for delivering justice.
However, Ongwen’s brother, Mr David Johnson Onekalit, who lives in Coorom in Amuru District, and followed the judgment on television, said: “We were hoping that Ongwen would be released so that he would take up his family responsibility … I’m overwhelmed to care for his many children.”

Ms Collin Atoo from Gulu asked LRA fighters still holed up in the jungles to surrender so that they can be forgiven under Acholi traditional justice system if they are to avoid prosecution.
 “ICC has proved its worth and we feel relieved,’’ she said.

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